Oil palm labourers demand action from RSPO

DTE 96-97, December 2013

A workshop organised by the Indonesian trade unions alliance, Serbundo, has exposed the poor conditions for workers on palm oil plantations. The November 8-9 event was held in Medan, North Sumatra, a few days before the start of the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in the same city.

A statement issued at the meeting said there is evidence of forced labour in oil palm plantation, with labourers experiencing “poor treatment, low wages, unfair punishment and sanctions. Workers are also “not provided with decent working tools and safety equipment as well as limited access to clean water, health care and school facilities.”

Child labour is still often found in the plantations, as workers rely on children and other family members to get the required work done.

“The condition of workers is worsened by the limited freedom to unionize. Labourers who try to establish unions are faced with intimidation, displacement, wage cuts and even fired.”

The statement points out that the RSPO’s Principles and Criteria include principles on decent wages, working conditions, the freedom to establish and become a member of a trade union, the disallowing of child labour and the prevention of sexual harassment as well as other forms of violence against women, amongst others. It also points out the RSPO’s commitment to follow the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on the Principle and Fundamental Rights in the Work Place. It goes on to highlight the fact that the RSPO has failed to resolve any violations by RSPO members and that all forms of violation are still happening in plantations today. The statement ends with the demand to the RSPO to:

  • form a Labour Working Group in the RSPO and ensure labourers’ representation in this group;
  • ensure fairness, transparency and impartiality in the RSPO grievance mechanism
  • include labourers and local communities in the certification process
  • revoke RSPO certification for plantations that violate the rights of labourers, farmers and local communities
  • require plantation companies to provide decent wages for labourers
  • require RSPO member plantation companies to eliminate outsourcing, day labourers, piece rate labourers and contract labourers in the positions of harvesters, sprayers and all work that use chemicals and are dangerous to health and work safety
  • require RSPO member plantation companies not to impede freedom of association.

The full statement can be found in English at: http://sawitwatch.or.id/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Statement-RSPO_eng.pdf  and in Indonesian at http://sawitwatch.or.id/2013/11/1486/

Serbundo is an alliance of 12 unions and 2 CSOs including Sawit Watch.

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A new report on palm oil and labour by Sawit Watch and International Labour Rights Forum, Empty Assurances is available at: http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/Empty%20Assurances.pdf

The report includes three case study plantations, one in Central Kalimantan, PT Kerry Sawit Indonesia,  and two in North Sumatra: PT Socfindo Bangun Bandar and PT Lonsum Rambung Sialang.